I tried to resist buying Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on its release day. I really did. But when July 31st dawned and bookstores started posting pictures and videos on social media, the nostalgia got to me.
I say ‘nostalgia’ and not ‘hype’ on purpose. The countless articles and ads in the lead up to the release had done nothing for me – except stoke a restless sort of malaise towards the whole phenomenon. I had mixed feelings about a play being part of the official canon and I was sick of JK Rowling’s tweets constantly making global headlines. But if younger Manda had known I was considering forgoing a new Harry Potter book, she would have kicked me in the shins. No, she would have beaten the shit out of me. (Actually, if she was true to our character, she would have just been brutally sarcastic.)
I owed it to my past self to pick up a copy.
The tradition of buying the new Harry Potter adventure on publication day has been part of my life since I was nine years old. It’s such a deeply ingrained habit that when the illustrated edition of The Philosopher’s Stone came out last year, I bought it almost immediately. It was the day after a long weekend, so while it’s possible I’d simply booked the extra day of annual leave for relaxation purposes, I can’t confidently say that Harry had nothing to do with it.
Some of my favourite memories of growing up are inextricably linked to Harry Potter. Reading and re-reading the books during the school holidays, playing the rather shoddy video games, seeing every movie at the cinema once with my family and once with my friends (at least).
I remember being 16 and lining up at Big W, waiting for the release of Deathly Hallows – arguing with a maths teacher and a chemistry professor about whether or not Snape was redeemable. As soon as I had paid for my book, I headed to the food court – the only place with chairs and tables in the whole shopping centre. Only the Gloria Jeans and Donut King were open, but no one was buying – everyone was there to read. I remember taking in the sight of people of all ages bent intently over their books and feeling exhilarated by being part of something so wonderful.
Since finishing school, I’ve re-read the series from start to finish every couple of years. Even during off-years, I re-read at least a couple of the books. They’re comforting. The kindle editions kept me company as my boyfriend and I travelled through China in 2012 – something familiar in a country full of the unfamiliar.
Whenever I’m home on a Friday or Saturday night (most weeks) and I come across the movies on TV, I almost always stop to watch (and alarm my boyfriend by reciting huge chunks of the dialogue). One of the best afternoons of my life was when I convinced my sister to skip an afternoon tutorial and come with me to see the Harry Potter exhibition at the Powerhouse museum (for the second time).
Since moving from Sydney to Canberra, the audiobook versions have been my friend during many lonely lunchtime walks. I might not have many real mates in my new city yet, but I’ll always have Harry and the gang.
It was Harry that made me dream of working in children’s publishing. When I was lucky enough to live that dream, one of my favourite things to do was organise release day parties for highly anticipated books – I wanted to help create a special memory for the attending readers, pay the excitement forward.
It took me about two hours to read Cursed Child. I’d read some spoilers in advance, so the rather bizarre direction taken by the story wasn’t a shock – although it did still frustrate me. The script didn’t fully recapture the thrill of reading one of the novels for the first time, but it was lovely to spend time with those beloved characters again.
Later that night as I watched the fluff stories on the news about kids dressed up as wizards lining up at bookshops, I realised that most of the children on screen were barely alive when the last book was published. Yet there they were, clad head to toe in their Hogwarts uniforms, excitement shining on their little faces.
I’d been feeling so cynical about the whole thing. The weird storyline and the fact that the most fans will never get to see the play live. If I’m honest, maybe a possessive part of me also felt a little affronted by the young readers getting all the media’s attention. They’d never had to wait two, three years between books. Harry was ours, not theirs.
I’ve always admired J.K Rowling for creating a story that captured so many imaginations, shaped so many childhoods and turned so many people into lifelong readers. I’ll always treasure having grown up alongside Harry. (And to be honest, I think I will keep HP7 as the last instalment in my head canon.) But stories are for everyone – if they get people reading, if they show kids they’re not alone and give them a world to escape to, then the hype is deserved – and who are we to complain?